WEEK 4 – CHRISTIANS AWAKE! SALUTE THE HAPPY MORN - PREPARING THE WAY OF THE LORD IN OUR OWN LIVES
Prayer & Bible Reading: Matthew 2:1-10. I’ve only recently got into watching detective series and started to enjoy programmes like “Lewis” and “DCI Banks”, I don’t know what it is about them but I’ve enjoyed trying to work out the truth of who “dunnit”.
The mysterious wise men who came from the east and who went under the name of Magi were genuine seekers, trying to work out the truth from all the clues. They came from modern day Iran and the gifts they bought were all typical of that region. Magi were originally a priestly caste in Persia, but the term was later used generally for magicians an astrologers. Astrology had developed into a science and was thought to provide clues to the questions of life. So these seekers fit the picture. They were not disinterested scientists but were using the clues presented to them to follow the evidence to a conclusion – much like a modern day detective on TV.
They followed the star, not in an attempt to explain and discover if it was a comet or a nova or a coming together of planets but because to them the star had a deeper meaning and significance. It meant a new and special king was born to the Jewish people, one whose birth deserved to be marked by making a journey to pay him homage.
Their quest led them roughly in the right direction. They didn’t have all the clues they needed to find the baby immediately. As in all the best detective stories, working on what they have leads them on a bit of a false trail to start with. They piece all their information together and naturally conclude that if it’s a king that’s being born he’ll be born in a palace, so naturally they head of to Herod’s place.
What they needed to do was to add to their human logic, divine revelation. Had they had that, they might have gone straight to Bethlehem. Refusing to be put off and go home they carried on their search for the king until they found him at last. Interestingly, Herod’s advisors had the same information, but didn’t follow it up because they didn’t have the hunger that made them seekers.
Our culture encourages us to look for easy answers, and we’re often impatient if we can’t get them quickly. But most worthwhile quests in life, whether in science, criminal investigation or the quest for personal fulfilment, demand perseverance and determination. Spiritually the answers aren’t always easy, but they’re always worth the quest because seekers find.
- Have you followed the evidence about Jesus carefully, or do you expect easy answers from God in your spiritual life?
- Have you been tempted to turn aside after the slightest difficulty or are you a determined seeker?
Admirers often coo over a new born baby and say “isn’t she gorgeous” or “he’s so cute”. Sometime later when the wise men reached their destination they saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and worshipped. This was much more than saying “isn’t he cute”.
Although worship can simply mean to show respect to a human leader, the fact that they bowed down to him, combined with the way in which Matthew uses the word “worship”, suggests this was more than mere respect. It was to bow down in homage and express personal recognition of his kingship and open-ended submission to his authority.
Why the Magi should have been so excited about the birth of a new king of the Jews is puzzling. What did it matter to them? Unless we realise that right at the beginning of his life, Jesus was being identified as a king beyond the Jewish people, but for the whole world. Probably this is why Matthew included them in the Christmas story. All the others who crowded the nativity were Jewish. Some of them like Anna were marginalised and others like the shepherds were suspect. But the Magi were Arabs and therefore, Gentiles. They came from outside the predictable social network to worship Jesus. Now foreigners will have a place in the new kingdom.
So is it a coincidence? No. the magi were not causal visitors who happened to drop by, but genuine worshippers who had travelled from a distant land to pay homage. Matthew joins up the dots and views their coming as fulfilling ancient prophecies. He was the universal king. His arrival deserved more than mere admiration and the expression of how cute the baby was. It demanded then, and it demands now, nothing less than submission AND reverent obeisance.
Read Isaiah 60:1-11. How does this enhance your understanding God’s rule?
Does it lead you not just to admire but to worship the baby in Bethlehem? How?
Reading Matthew 2:11
Boxing Day was originally the day when rich people gave their servants a box containing a present to open, though few people waiting until Boxing Day to open their presents now – if any, that is. A great deal of our Christmas preparation is to do with presents. Unless you’re particularly imaginative, you probably go through nightmares working out what you can buy, trying to avoid giving the same old present again or the unwanted gift that will be recycled next year!
Although many nativity plays suggest the shepherds donated a sheep or two to Jesus, they almost certainly didn’t. The sheep weren’t theirs to give. If the shepherds were working out on the Bethlehem hills, the sheep were probably marked for slaughter at Temple sacrifices. The biblical precedence comes from the Magi who gave their gifts. Hugely symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The wise men have set us a tremendous example. When wondering about the presents we give to family and friends, do we ever stop to think about the present we can bring to Jesus, or do we count going to church at Christmas time as present enough? Where does he figure in our plans and preparations?
There may be many things on Christ’s present list? What might these be?
Consider Christina Rossetti’s carol – what can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man, I would do my part, yet what I can I give him – give my heart.”
• What’s on your present list for Jesus this year?
Read: Luke 2:15-20
Usually we don’t supress our urge to tell others good news whether they’re interested or not – think of a new baby, a new job, something exciting happening in our lives. We are good at quite naturally gossiping good news.
We’ve a routine image of the shepherds. Strong rugged men used to cold hillsides and fighting off wild beast who attacked their flocks, but guys actually had tender hearts for their fleecy sheep. The truth is a little different. True, they were rugged guys used to the cold, the loneliness and the danger the job involved, but that made them hard men. How much they truly cared for their sheep is questionable. The job put them outside the normal run of community life and unable to join in the routine of religious life. This made people suspicious of them and they were assumed to be dishonest. You never bought anything from a shepherd because it was bound to be stolen. Shepherding was on a list of despised occupations.
Given all that, it is remarkable that God chose the shepherds to be the first evangelists to spread the good news of the Saviours birth. Yet surprising as it may see, it fits the picture of the way God works. God consistency uses ordinary people and no-bodies. Still today the best messengers of the good news of Christ are ordinary men and women who like the shepherds gossip the good news. It doesn’t require ordination or a degree or the ability to argue convincing against Richard Dawkins to speak of Jesus effectively. It takes an experience of Jesus, such as the shepherds had. It takes enthusiasm, which the shepherds demonstrated. No-one is going to be convinced that Jesus is good news if his follows are boring, inhibited or holier-than-thou types. It also takes courage. People must have thought the shepherds mad, hard men like them don’t usually have a religious experience. And they didn’t usually get excited over a baby – but it didn’t stop them from saying what they’d seen. It took guts to speak for Jesus – it still does. But when we don’t normally have difficulty passing on good news, why do we hold back on passing on the good news of Jesus?
When did you last speak to someone about the good news of Jesus?
If it’s been some time ask yourself why? What opportunities do you have this Christmas to speak about him?
Share your favourite carol with each other and explain what it means to you.
What do you struggle with in the Christmas story? What do you find hard to believe or to make sense of?